A day after a New York Times story broke on the intense jockeying for NSA intelligence from various agencies within the federal government, Reuters has published an explosive report on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and its collaboration with the NSA and other agencies providing intelligence. That the surveillance agency has linked up with drug enforcement, as well as the extent to which the drug enforcement agency has isolated itself from the legal process by simply removing any evidence that points to it's involvement are grave causes for concern.
In a story that received scant attention, the San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend that the NSA has been distributing information to the Justice Department on matters unrelated to terrorism. The new Reuters report can be seen as an extension of that story. The story is fairly straightforward. A unit of the DEA known as the Special Operations Division has been receiving and distributing vast levels of intelligence from agencies such as the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security. Upon receiving information about a particular transaction or meeting place, DEA agents go make arrests, using traffic stops as pretext.
These are cases that do not involve suspected terrorists plotting to attack some public space, but suspected drug dealers here in the United States. In other words, this appears to clearly be severe overreach on the part of America's intelligence services. Most people would agree that individuals on the street dealing substances such as crack or marijuana do not constitute a terrorist threat, regardless of how they may feel about the activity itself. Nancy Gertner, law professor at Harvard University, spoke on the subject:
"I have never heard of anything like this at all. It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations."
Maybe the most revealing and sinister aspect of this story are the directives handed down to DEA agents to conceal involvement in these intelligence-sharing operations. According to the reports, agents are required to "omit the S.O.D.’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD."
In other words, drug enforcement agents are being told to flat-out lie to judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys about the process that lead to the information received. This is a clear violation of due process, which as we all know is a fundamental right within the U.S. legal system. As Rick Ungar notes, denying defendants the information necessary to examine the veracity and legality of arrest mechanisms impinges on the rights of the defendant. And it's not just the rights of defendants either. Reuters also reports:
"One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a U.S. citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD and from an NSA intercept."
"I was pissed," the prosecutor said. "Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you're trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court." The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said."
So there you have it. The latest revelation exposes large-scale potential overreach within administrative agencies, as well as obstruction of the court system. Fantastic.